She stands in front of the house, checking the address, comparing it to the paper clutched in her gloved hand she's carried all the way from Downton. How she has managed to keep it crease free is a mystery to her, and she swallows, breathing in and out slowly as she picks up her luggage and makes her way to the front porch.
The house is solid but far from ornate-British enough, Granny would say. But it somehow intimidates her, her-the cool and collected Lady Mary Crawley, and she sets her luggage down once more as she approaches the front door, inhaling slowly before raising her fist and knocking three times on the door.
Her fate will be sealed within the next few minutes, and she curses herself under her breath yet again, wishing to God she'd never met Kamal Pamuk, nearly laughing at how appealing cousin Patrick has suddenly become in her mind. But he won't have her now, no respectable man will unless she's able to hush up her indiscretion here in the dregs of Manchester.
She hears footsteps coming from the other side, and she swallows down the nausea that's been pestering her since her departure from Downton. She's more nauseous than not, these days, something her mother assured her would pass within a matter of weeks, and she prays Mama is actually right about this.
The door opens to reveal a man, and she blinks in surprise.
"May I help you?"
His voice is soft and even with a soothing quality that reminds her vaguely of Carson.
"I'm here to see Isobel Crawley," she states, doing her best to sound authoritative. "This is the address I was given."
"Of course," he says, stepping back to allow her entrance. "You must be Cousin Mary. Mother told me to expect you. She's at the hospital at the moment, but I expect her back at any time."
He reaches for her luggage and takes it from her without a word, guiding her into a house that smells of cloves and pine.
"I'm Matthew," he states, taking her hand and giving her a look she'd rather not decipher. Pity and censure are not emotions she takes to at all, and she won't accept them from anyone, regardless of her circumstances. He smiles at her, however, his blue eyes warm yet wary as he guides her into a dark study surrounded by books and wrapped in leather. "Go and warm yourself by the fire. It's freezing out there, and I'm certain you're tired after your trip. I'll take these up to your bedroom."
She hears him move up the staircase as she steps towards the flames, allowing their warmth to envelop her like a heavy blanket. The popping sounds keeps her grounded, and she focuses on them to keep panic at bay.
Just breathe, she reminds herself as she allows herself to sit in an oversized chair. Her hand moves instinctively to her stomach, still flat but firmer than it used to be, and she swallows, fighting back tears she won't allow herself to shed, at least not here, not now, not in front of Matthew. Staying with an overly helpful cousin until her child is born was the least offensive of her options when laid out to her by Granny and Mama, and they'd made the arrangements quietly with Anna's assistance, keeping both her father and sisters completely in the dark as to her dilemma.
He's coming back down the steps now, and she braces herself for questions he'll most assuredly ask, but he doesn't walk into the study directly, and she can't help but wonder what he's about. He returns a few minutes later, tray in hand, depositing some tea and sandwiches on a small table that sits between them,
"I know it's early for tea," he states with a self-deprecating shrug. "But I found I was in the mood and thought you might be, as well." He looks to her for permission, and she nods, more thankful for his gesture than she'll ever admit. The tea smells like heaven, one of the few aromas that doesn't offend her in her current condition, and she accepts her cup gratefully, inhaling liquid warmth before bringing it to her lips.
"It's alright, you know," he says, catching her mid-sip. "Mother will take good care of you. She's been working like mad to prepare your room and to make certain you feel welcome."
Something aches inside of her, knowing she's welcome here in Manchester but not in her own home.
"That's very kind of her," she returns, setting her cup back down on the saucer.
"She may kill you with kindness," Matthew states with a lopsided grin. "Just so you know."
She looks at him directly, and he returns her gaze without flinching.
"And you?" she asks. "Do you approve of my being here?"
She shouldn't care what he thinks, one way or the other, but she finds that she does, so she keeps her expression neutral, willing herself to breathe evenly even as her insides begin to rock.
"It's not my place to approve or disapprove of you, Lady Mary," he answers, something in his eyes making it impossible for her to look away. He leans forward then, almost encroaching into her space, but remaining just on the perimeter as he clears his throat. "But I'll help you and your child in any way that I can. You have my word."